Selection: “Mike’s Song>Simple>Light>Weekapaug Groove”
Memo’s “Other Jams” Memo: Fun as heck “Scent of a Mule”, Rocking “Maze”, Solid “Seven Below”, Cleansing “Slave to the Traffic Light”, Rare “The Lizards” Encore
From Darren Kemp:
Star Lake is a hallowed venue in the annals of Phishtory. I don’t care what vapid, karma-sucking corporate name it has now, it will always be Star Lake to most of us. Snuggled just outside of Pittsburgh in the sleepy town of Burgettstown, the venue has delivered some of the highest quality shows our beloved band can deliver. (We’ll ignore that 2009 aberration that came in a year full of them). The venue has 4 shows out of 7 with a 4.5 rating which puts it in the upper tier of venues that simply will not disappoint from a band that, frankly, sometimes has a hard time delivering at highly anticipated events. Despite my close to 20 years following Phish, 2012 was my first experience at Star Lake. My timing was impeccable as this show was a barn-burner, front to back.
My friend Daren (aka 1R) and I made the trip down in record time and set up camp just down the road at Bennett Acres with some friends from thePhish Turntable room where I had made many close friends over the past year. We got to the venue early for some pre-game time and met several more Turntable friends in the lot. Phish fans are some of the best people on Earth and quantifying the feeling of deep kinship I felt for people I had only previously known online was a wonderful thing. In fact, we spent so much time visiting we missed most of the opening twosome of “Funky Bitch->Number Line”. (No tears over that second one for me. “All my friends” were still outside.)
I spent the first set in the lawn with 1R and some of the guys from Buffalo-based band, Aqueous. Watching my favorite old-school band with members of my favorite new-school band was indescribably awesome and the first set was filled with heaters. An A-class “Maze”; a funked out “Moma” segueing into quite possibly my favorite “Scent of a Mule” ever; and a rare first set closing “YEM” were highlights.
During setbreak, we got some affordably priced $12 Budweisers and made our way into the pavilion for set 2. After an energetic and well-executed “Jibboo,” the opening notes of “Mike’s Song” brought that irreplaceable feeling of “Here we go” that no band can ignite like the phab phour.
“Mike’s Song” (0:00 – 8:50)
Mike starts up in a standard yet well-executed fashion. Trey sounds like he has a little extra grit on his tone that gives it a nice dirty girl feel. Spankings, anyone? We walk through the hallways of Mike’s mind, filled with fashionable scarves, odd-angled ceilings and vegan Meatsticks. At 2:37, we bounce into the second segment with more dirty chords from Trey and a slowly building piano melody by Page. Trey starts to build with him. I check my pulse… is it getting hot in here? This is one FINE ass “Mike’s” jam. Speaking of Mike, he and Fish are holding down the fort while slowly dismantling it in unison. This is the stuff wet dreams are made of. The peaks start sneaking in from Trey. I look at 1R, he looks like he was the photographer that caught Britney’s sans-agent-provocateur horizontally challenged smile popping out of the limo. The peaks keep coming. And coming. And coming. Trey is playing ascending circles around the audience’s head. It’s practically an orgasmic experience. Glowsticks climatically explode through the air. This is not for children. Finally, we hear the ascending chords signalling the start of the “Mike’s” second jam… What? You say they don’t do that anymore? Well that’s a damn shame..
“Simple” (8:51 – 18:14)
The segue into “Simple” isn’t the best but does the job. Typical for a Phish segue that doesn’t quite work, Fishman completely stops drumming. Despite that, the opening sequences are well executed and the crowd is singing so loud the very air is vibrating around us. We climb the skyscraper with our saxophones, but we know what is THE band. We are watching them. Simple the lyrics may be, but the beautiful elation that comes in the chorus is deep. The jam kicks in. I find myself floating in a dreamlike epiphany, where everything in my life comes clear, and I know I am in the right place. The jam is simply elegant euphoria. I look at 1R, he looks like he just married Alyssa Milano.
Then the tension starts to creep in ever so slightly, like an angel with a deep secret, yet never fully overtaking the jam. An amazing dark nuance to a brilliant joyful section. The tension eases. Once again we are floating in the light. Mike starts making sounds that make me wonder if he’s human. We are deep in type II land… going deeper. Trey starts playing a melody that shouldn’t make sense on top of anything, but it is somehow perfect, then…
“Light” (18:15 – 32:10)
True to form, Fishman cans the percussion and we again go through a somewhat clumsy segue into “Light.” This is a somewhat controversial song in the community, with some eschewing it as overplayed and boring. Wrong. Whammy for you. This song has become the homeland of some of the best improvisational pieces of 3.0. The chorus and intro are well executed with excellent harmonies by Page and Mike. Fishman redeems himself from the melody applying some deliciously subtle rolls into the mix. The jam begins with a standard Type 1 pace with some brilliant patience in the build. Float on floaters, we all get helium shoes tonight. Mike takes charge and interjects some tension. Fishman follows suit. Mike goes way up the neckline. Trey follows suit then goes into this sequence of bendy notes that has me checking my pulse again. Cactus kicks up the effects. Ladies and gents, we have left the song structure. Spooky noises abound, I look around for Patrick Swayze.
It appears we are safe. I look at 1R, he is checking his pulse as well. Page starts making some plinko-y sounds bouncing around Mike’s bass line. Trey is playing a chord sequence; around 28:35 it becomes very reminiscent of “Fire on the Mountain,” or “Meatstick” if you prefer. (They are after all, the same song). The tease fades and comes back. Maybe it’s not listed as a tease, but damn is it close. More plinko-y sounds, then the tension eases its way in as Trey plays some dissonant chords. Mike starts a descending cycle around Trey’s dissonance. Page mimics Trey’s guitar tones with an opposing melody. This is some serious shit, I don’t even know what to write now. Let’s just listen to the masters until…
“Weekapaug Groove” (32:11 – 42:10)
DAMMIT, FISH! The drums stop again, but nothing would stop this “Groove.” Almost immediately, Trey returns to the type II theme that closed the “Light” which is something we have not seen enough of in 3.0. After a bit of this we segue back into “Paug.” Hallelujah! The little drummer boy does it and the percussion carries into the first vocal phrases of Phish’s ultimate exclamation mark song. The first solo features a combination of pure “Paug” and more revisitation of the “Light” jam theme. My head is dangerously close to exploding. I down a fistful of aspirin to ward off any impending cardiac arrests. Page starts a playful theme that drives Trey in and out of the “Paug/Light” themed mashup. Gordon starts dropping bombs that smell like the roses are gonna be free all night. Around 36:50, the key changes effortlessly and we get some grand piano from Page. Trey starts hitting some beautiful high notes and we get a short “Divided Sky” tease that resembles my now dividing brain hemispheres. My creative brain has become the Dom and all thoughts of reality cease to exist. We are floating in space again. Complete type II territory. I look over at 1R, he looks like he just nailed every member of the Spice Girls.
Slowly, our feet come back to solid ground in full dance frenzy as the band takes us back through the “Paug” ending.
This set was not quite done yet as “Paug” dove into “Seven Below.” The “-7” is somewhat clumsy through the composed parts but regains its composure with some more excellent improvisation. The obligatory “Bouncing” follows next, but for once is placed perfectly to let all our brains reboot from one of the best sequences this band has engaged in since possibly 1.0. With a sundae-worthy show so overrun with cherries its practically toppling over, the band couldn’t possibly do anything but a standard “Loving Cup”-esque encore, right? Wrong. “LIZARDS.” Ten thousand people simultaneously shit their pants. No one minds. What a finish to my personal favorite of the 3.0 shows I’ve been blessed to attend. Bravo, gentleman. Bravo.
Darren writes for UpstateLive live magazine which covers the Western New York jam band scene. He also curates a fan blog for the Buffalo based band “Aqueous” called UnclePhilsBlog. Chances are if there is a decent live act in the Western New York area, Darren is there. Darren somehow finds time for shows while raising his autistic son Jack. A huge advocate for autism awareness, Darren is always willing to discuss this issue that is close to his heart. Darren’s incredible passion for Phish has grown to many local jam bands, and he works tirelessly to promote them.
Also Follow: @upstatelive
Favorite Ghost: Portland Meadows 09/12/1999